I think that the area of Tuscany should be renamed Medici – after all this is the family that pretty much owned the whole countryside up until the mid-18th century. Originally a family who began in the textile trade and founded what is still the world’s oldest operating bank in 1472, the Medici’s rose from being common citizens to having exceptional political power. They produced four popes (all of whom I saw entombed in a wonderfully opulent church in Siena) and two queens of France. Not bad for a bunch of nobodies huh? Here is the real kicker – because they were had so much money, power, and influence (through money laundering) they made themselves Dukes of Tuscany, and who was going to challenge them really? Those clients who were doing a great service for illegally? I think not – the Medici’s were not soldiers, so when confronted by their adversaries, they would typically bribe them with gold, rather than fight for territory – make money, not war.
For 300 years, this family rocked the house in Tuscany as huge proponents of the arts and music and big ass, fancy parties – they were in fact one of three families in Italy to initiate the Renaissance movement. ( I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure that the texts I read sort of glazed over this information about Italy during my World History Class, actually, they eliminated it – and why? Because the Dukes were not the rightful heirs to the region? They were mere peasants before their Cinderella Story transpired. Then, once they gained power in the region, they used it to help the poor, for art, science, music and, the worst of all, humanity – now why on earth would we not want to teach our children about an enlightened family who, after acquiring an enormous collection of artistic and scientific discovery, turned everything they owned over to the citizens of the city for their enjoyment because it wasn’t theirs to “own”? (What a horrible message to send – oh, clutch the pearls!) Grant it – they had a bit of a hiccup in the middle of the 16th century when some bastard (literally) child, Alessandro, got greedy and became a cruel and brutal leader. After 5 years of that crap, the family off’d him and put a poet in his place (can the families of some of the world’s shittiest leaders clean up their own backyard today and save us all some misery, per fervore? )
Anyhoo, the family blood eventually died out in the mid-18th century, with no heirs to the duchy left, the torch was passed over to the Lorraine family of Austria who did an equally fine job with trying to preserve what the Medici’s set up as the cultural center of Italy. The evidence of their influence, wealth, power, preserver of the arts, and knowledge is evident not only in almost every church and museum I have toured in Firenze but throughout the remainder of the Tuscan countryside that I have had a chance to see this week. In Firenze alone – they had not one castle, but two (never mind the phat pads they set up in the other areas of Tuscany that they were fond of visiting): The Palazzo Vecchio was first, and, when they outgrew that one for entertaining artists, musicians and friends, they built the Palazzo Pitti to include a MASSIVE garden area behind the Palace that stretches for 10 square city blocks, the Giardino Boboli. I spent an excellent afternoon there, getting lost for hours after I missed my effing bus to tour the Tuscan countryside Thursday morning.
After walking what I believe was the whole dang complex (no doubt I missed a few nooks and crannies) I sat down on a bench under a beautiful juniper pine to relax and imagine what it must have been like to attend a soiree at the Medici home in the 1600s – just decadent I suppose. Quickly, I was joined by a Royal Kitty who lay on my lap like a princess and napped for an hour or so. Unfortunately for both of us, the sun was beginning to set and my tummy was demanding more pasta, so I had to gently boot her off my lap before the gardens closed. She was none too happy and hissed at me before she ran off to chase one of the 1,800 mosquitos that had bit the crap out of my legs while I was sitting there (oh, what we won’t do for some sweet young thing, huh?).
I left the gardens and headed out for some dinner, and more sexual harassment from yet another Italian waiter, Toni, before getting back to my hotel, in order to get to bed early enough so that I didn’t miss the bus on Friday for the tour of Tuscany, which left at 8:30am for Siena. Of course, Toni is forgiven for being annoying because he served me the most excellent black truffle cheese dipped in honey with a side of pears (How am I ever going to eat crappy manufactured and processed food in the States again?)
Established in the 13th century, and home of the Monte di Paschi di Siena bank, built in 1472 in the midst of the Gothic era for architecture, it is the World’s oldest bank still operating today. A second building was added during the Renaissance period and was finally expanded to include a third building during the Baroque age. It was interesting to see the three buildings next to each other to compare the variances in the architecture. Siena is still a center of the banking industry, so much of the city is well-preserved and clean! It is clear that the bankers who lived here loved their city and spared no expense to show off their grandiose fortunes through the building of the City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico), and the Cathedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. The marble floor took 200 years to complete by 40 different artists (including Donatello and Michelangelo – some of the Medici favs, I have gathered). Normally, the floor is kept covered to preserve the marble, but in September and October, they uncover it and remove the pews to show off the beautiful craftsmanship.
Normally I think I would have skipped seeing another church, but they drew me in with a library full of books that recorded some of the original Gregorian chants. The church had gone to great lengths to preserve quite nicely and much of the detailed drawings remain intact. Since I am studying Music right now, it was yet another little hidden treasure of history that often gets overlooked. After an hour, I had finally finished touring the complex and I was hungry. So, I caught a bus to a local farm and family-owned vineyard for lunch – Poggio Alloro. They served a delicious Penne with Beef Ragu, salad with their own olive oil, then antipasto, and biscotti to finish (all food was fresh from their farm).<
Each course was complimented with a different type of wine (produced at the vineyard): a Vernaccia, Chianti, Cabernet, and Sweet Dessert Wine (that is only delicious when you dip the biscotti in). I decided I needed to walk off my afternoon tipsy and full belly, so I caught a ride to San Gimignano – a town just 10 minutes away – known as the “Manhattan of Tuscany”. Again, the bankers had money and wanted to show it off, so they built towers – the bigger the tower, the more money you had, and the greater number of towers, the more money you had. (At what point in history did we decide that money was the measurement of your importance as a human being? Ugh, I am such a hippy).
Originally, San Gimignano had 72 towers, but many were destroyed throughout the wars over time, so only 14 towers remain standing today. The towers have now been replaced with Gelato places, which I think was a good trade. So, I enjoyed some, then took a nap on a bench in the park overlooking the valleys of vineyards. When I woke up, the seasons had changed and it was quite windy, so I hurried to catch a bus to Pisa before going back to Firenze for the evening.
Here is what I have to say about Pisa…… I came. I saw. It Leans. The End.